S Leone opposition slams poll delays

Freetown - Opposition and civil society groups in Sierra Leone on Tuesday launched a stinging attack on a decision to delay presidential and legislative elections as the new date is in the peak of the rain season.

Voting initially set for July 28 will now be held on August 11 to give lawmakers more time for the electoral campaign, the national electoral commission (NEC) said at the weekend.

"The postponement is a clear manifestation of NEC's intention to disrupt the voting process as a lot of people would find it very difficult to cast their votes on August 11 as a result of the rains," Issa Bah, secretary general of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), said.

Osman Conteh, the head of the opposition United National People's Party (UNPP), said the new date was "a terrible time to conduct elections as most of the interior will be unpassable".

He suggested extending the date by two months, saying that "to conduct elections during the middle of the rainy season amounts to disenfranchising many electors who may find it difficult to have access to polling stations".

Elections in Sierra Leone have traditionally been held in May, before the onset of the monsoon rains.

The leader of the main opposition All People's Congress (APC), Ernest Koroma, wants an extension of polling to September, otherwise "voters will find it difficult to access voting centres especially in distant places".

The elections are expected to serve as a crucial test of the west African country's democratic credentials and establish whether it is on the road to full recovery after a 10-year brutal civil war.

The NEC announced the election delay on Saturday, saying the time between parliament's dissolution in late June and polling would otherwise be "too short" for the elections to be "free, fair and transparent".

Sierra Leone's leading civil society groups said in a statement: "The new date has rubbed salt into the wounds of an already confused situation as it is a period known for floods in many parts of the country due to heavy rainfall."

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is nearing the end of his two terms, is not eligible for re-election.

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